Hiking party: Grand Canyon descent an uplifting experience

A group of 20 SLO County women ranging in age from 45 to 75 hiked the Grand Canyon in May.

photos by ashala tylor
A group of 20 SLO County women ranging in age from 45 to 75 hiked the Grand Canyon in May. photos by ashala tylor

When a group of women from around San Luis Obispo County set out to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, few of them knew what to expect. But all shared the triumph of the feat upon their return.

The 20 women, all members of a weekly Wednesday morning hiking group, trained for nearly a year in anticipation of the Grand Canyon trip. Their backgrounds are diverse as their ages, which range from the youngest hiker at 45 to the oldest at 74.

The nearly seven-mile descent from the South Rim into the canyon began on a frigid May morning at 5:45 a.m. with fierce winds. Some wondered what they had signed up for. But soon enough, each woman found her own pace and began to embrace the magnificent scenery and the adrenaline of the hike ahead.

“The trail immediately stepped sharply downhill over uneven ground,” wrote Diane Halstead, 63, of San Luis Obispo. “We soon strung out on the trail, grouping and separating, some powering down in three hours and others taking six.”

Blooming wildflowers graced the descent and many of the women stopped to marvel at the rare beauty and take photographs along the way.

The women walked alone or together — most having left behind husbands or other significant others to do the journey.

“It was very empowering,” said Andrea Wasko, of Los Osos, who was the youngest hiker on the trip. “It also gives me great hope as I continue to mature.”

Wasko, who comes from a family of women who haven’t lived long or led active lives, said she makes a concerted effort to concentrate on her own health and wellness.

“Some (of the women) have shared a lot of information about their personal journeys and struggles with me,” said Wasko. “It’s amazing what these women have overcome with grace and dignity. I admire and respect each and every one of them.”

The ladies gathered at Phantom Ranch, built in the 1920s, at the base of the Grand Canyon, for rest.

There, together under the shade of cottonwood trees, they celebrated the safe decent of more than 4,800 feet — many of the women having done the hike for the first time.

Some soaked sore knees in the nearby Colorado River while others chatted with other travelers who had also made the journey.

Two days later, on May 9, Mother’s Day, the upward climb began along the 7.8-mile long Bright Angel Trail. It was warm, nearly 70 degrees, a drastic change from how the journey began just days prior.

This would be the most trying part of the journey. The day’s hike upward took some women a little less than five hours, others took 10 hours to make the climb. Each woman made it to the top.

Joanne Riester, 68, of Cayucos, helped organize trip.

“When I got up to the top and looked down it was amazing to think of what I’d just done,” said Riester. “I wanted to turn to people with a big smile on my face and tell them that I’d hiked all the way up. It gives you a confidence that you can do a lot of things in life.”